It feels like a different era, doesn’t it? The graffiti spray-painted on the ugly concrete, the cheering crowds, the young people lithely scaling the hated stonework as they tore it down.
It was 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell, but it might as well have been 200. The imagery seems to belong to a different time, like staring at a painting of the mob storming the Bastille or George Washington crossing the Delaware. Yet we should all take a moment to remember just what the Fall of the Wall meant.
Not just the beginning of the end of Communism, an ideology that promised paradise and delivered a gray, monotonous purgatory. Nor the end of the Soviet empire and what that meant for people who had only known tyranny. No, what should make us rejoice is the end of a thermonuclear nightmare.
We have become so focused on jihad and fatwa, terrorism and fanatical gunmen, that we have convinced that our way of life is under threat. Hard to believe there was a time when statesmen and scientists talked casually about 15 million Americans dying in a Soviet nuclear strike.
The words seem archaic now; “nuclear winter”, “first strike”, “launch on warning.” Clinical language that obscured the end of life as we knew it. The United States and the Soviet Union – plus some assorted nuclear small fry like Britain and France – with enough firepower to devastate the Earth in less than 30 minutes. And all of them watchful, mistrustful, just a coded message away from Armageddon. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
9/11 was an atrocity. Global warming is a problem. But despite all the rhetoric, neither is an existential threat, or at least one that would end human civilization in less than it takes to watch a sitcom. The nuclear missiles, the submarines and the bombers, are still there. Russia, China and America still eye each other warily, and there are bound to be conflicts in the coming years. Still, most of us no longer wonder from time to time if we might be vaporized because some mistook a flock of birds for a flight of missiles.
That’s something to be grateful for.